A boat with 31 North Korea citizens drifted into South Korea waters and was picked up. North Korea being the kind of place that people sometimes don’t like going back to, four are trying to stay:
North Korea on March 5 made a fresh demand for the repatriation of all 31 citizens whose boat drifted into South Korean waters, warning inter-Korean relations would be otherwise seriously affected. The latest message carried by Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency came a day after the North refused to accept 27 of the 31, insisting that Seoul also hand over four others who want to live in the South.
“The South Korean authorities are forcing the detained guiltless inhabitants to separate from their families by appeasement and pressure,” it said in a notice sent to the South on March 5. “If the South Korean authorities do not comply with [North Korea’s] just demand, it will seriously affect the North-South relations and the South side will be held wholly accountable for it,” it said.
The North Koreans were on a fishing boat which drifted across the Yellow Sea border in thick fog on Feb. 5. After almost a month the South said it would hand over 27 but announced that two men and two women would be allowed to stay as they had requested.
In a message late March 4, the North demanded the unconditional repatriation of all 31, according to Seoul’s unification ministry, whose officials had been waiting in vain at the border village of Panmunjom to hand over the 27.
A ministry spokesman has said the South would try to contact North Korea again early next week to send the 27 home across the border. The communist state late March 3 accused the South of “despicable unethical acts” and said the group on the boat had been held hostage in a bid to fuel cross-border confrontation.
Seoul’s Unification Minister Hyun In-Taek told parliament the four had been allowed to stay in the South in respect of their wishes. The four include the 38-year-old boat captain, who apparently feared punishment if sent back and decided to stay when he saw how different life in the South is, the newspaper Chosun Ilbo reported.
The issue of involuntary repatriation, of course, formed one of the core disputes of the last year of the Korean War. Although the focus is on Chinese rather than Korean prisoners, I’d recommed Ha Jin’s wonderful novel War Trash for its treatment of this issue. In this case, my sympathies are obviously with the ROK; I suspect that returning the four to North Korea against their will would constitute a violation of their human rights.